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Vikings at Chargers Week 15: Five Game-Changing Plays

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Looking back at the most important plays from the 39-10 win over Los Angeles.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Happy victory Monday, Vikings fans! While you were reading this introductory sentence, the Chargers somehow just turned the ball over again.

We knew going in that the “other” Los Angeles team had lots of talent but couldn’t get out of their own way most of the season. On Sunday, it felt like they were flaunting their self-destructive tendencies at times. Despite going 6-for-11 on third down and out-gaining the Vikings by a yard, the Chargers turned the ball over seven times en route to a 39-10 blowout. In my preview of the game, I wrote about how both fan bases perpetually lived in fear of the other shoe dropping. The Chargers didn’t just drop the other shoe against the Vikings—they basically burned down a Payless. There were seven fumbles in the game and the Chargers didn’t recover a single one. (The only fumble where they retained possession went out of bounds.)

Of course, we’re pretty sure that they weren’t trying to give the ball away for most of the turnovers; the Vikings defense played a big part in the comedy of errors. The oft-maligned unit put together their second straight impressive overall effort and capitalized on nearly every opportunity they were given.

On offense, the Vikings made sure they didn’t provide nearly as many opportunities as their opponents. Kirk Cousins had two aborted snaps and an ill-advised interception on a screen pass, but otherwise they had an efficient game. The offensive line had an impressive showing against a talented Chargers front that includes Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings allowed no sacks, one quarterback hit, and seven total pressures. Four of the five starters along the Minnesota offensive line had their highest or second highest PFF pass blocking grade of the entire season against the Chargers.

After finishing their regular season road slate at .500, the Vikings are now 10-4 and in very good shape to make the postseason. The odds of hosting a playoff game once they qualify aren’t great thanks to other Week 15 results, but at least it appears that they’ll be in the mix of an absolutely loaded NFC playoff field.

Let’s take our weekly look back at the biggest plays that got us there.

Play 1A: Vikings ball, 2nd & 4 at the Minnesota 45. First quarter, 12:43 remaining. K.Cousins pass short middle to K.Rudolph to LAC 34 for 21 yards (M.Davis).

Play 1B: Vikings ball, 3rd & 6 at the Los Angeles 16. First quarter, 9:23 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass incomplete deep right to K.Rudolph. PENALTY on LAC-M.Davis, Defensive Pass Interference, 15 yards, enforced at LAC 16 - No Play.

We’re going with one play that counted and one that didn’t to start this week. Both of them involved Kyle Rudolph, so we’re combining them into one big early game changer. On the game’s opening drive, the Vikings got into scoring range after this 21-yard catch and run from Cousins to Rudolph off of of the offense’s staples: play action and roll out passing.

Later in the drive, Rudolph drew a crucial pass interference penalty against Michael Davis on third down. Davis was filling in for slot corner Desmond King, who was ruled out for non-injury reasons the night before kickoff.

On the play following the penalty, Irv Smith Jr. caught his second career touchdown pass and the Vikings had the lead less than six minutes into the game. Dan Bailey hit the right upright on the extra point so the advantage remained 6-0.

The Chargers converted two long third downs on their first drive to cut the lead in half with a field goal. They took over again at their own 15 after forcing a Vikings punt near midfield.

But in what ended up being some major foreshadowing, the Chargers didn’t hold onto the ball for long.

Play 2: Chargers ball, 2nd & 3 on the Los Angeles 23. First quarter, 1:34 remaining. M.Gordon right end to LAC 11 for no gain (D.Hunter). FUMBLES (D.Hunter), RECOVERED by MIN-H.Smith at LAC 11. H.Smith to LAC 11 for no gain (M.Gordon).

Danielle Hunter was a game-wrecker against the Chargers, and he got started by forcing a fumble on this Melvin Gordon run late in the first quarter. Harrison Smith recovered and the Vikings were back in business deep in LA territory.

Hunter got the credit for the forced fumble, but Mike Hughes may have started the process by getting a shoulder on the ball.

The Vikings could only muster a Bailey field goal with their excellent field position—something that proved to be frustratingly common Sunday—but they extended their lead back to six on the first play of the second quarter.

The lead didn’t last long. The Chargers converted three more third downs on their next drive, capped off by a two-yard touchdown catch from Philip Rivers to Mike Williams. Minnesota regained the lead on the following drive, getting a 44-yard field goal from Bailey to make it 12-10 with just over four minutes remaining in the first half.

Then a game of Hot Potato broke out.

Austin Ekeler had a fumble fall dead in front of the Vikings sideline for what seemed like ages, but the Chargers temporarily avoided disaster thanks to a heads-up play from Keenan Allen.

Two plays later, the Chargers turned it over anyway when Harrison Smith won an apparent game of “500” that Rivers was playing on third and long.

Four plays after that, the Vikings gave the ball right back when Ingram sniffed out a Cousins screen pass intended for Ameer Abdullah.

With 51 seconds left before the break, the Chargers had a great chance at going into halftime with the lead.

But try as the Vikings might, nobody out-Chargers the Chargers.

Play 3: Chargers ball, 2nd & 2 at the Minnesota 26. Second quarter, 0:23 remaining. (Shotgun) P.Rivers sacked at MIN 36 for -10 yards (D.Hunter). FUMBLES (D.Hunter) [D.Hunter], touched at MIN 38, RECOVERED by MIN-I.Odenigbo at MIN 44. I.Odenigbo for 56 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Once again, Hunter ruined the day for LA.

Hunter strip-sacked Rivers, Eric Kendricks knocked Ekeler off the ball to prevent a possible recovery, and Ifeadi Odenigbo took it from there, rumbling 56 yards for the scoop and score.

Amid all the chaos, my favorite part of the play was during the return. Watch left tackle Russell Okung, #76 on the Chargers as Odenigbo is running down the sideline. Hunter hustles to provide his teammate a blocker down field, and Okung makes the “business decision” to harmlessly fall down. Okung wanted absolutely NO part of getting steam rolled by Hunter, and I can’t say I blame him.

Instead of trailing at halftime, the Vikings found themselves up by nine. The Chargers still probably felt good about their chances in the second half, provided they took care of the ball better.

Spoiler alert: they did not.

Play 4: Chargers ball, 1st & 10 at the Los Angeles 25. Third quarter, 15:00 remaining. (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short middle to M.Gordon to LAC 31 for 6 yards (S.Stephen). FUMBLES (S.Stephen), RECOVERED by MIN-D.Hunter at LAC 30. D.Hunter to LAC 26 for 4 yards (H.Henry).

The CBS crew came out of the break talking about how Anthony Lynn discussed taking care of the football at halftime. Apparently his plea fell on deaf ears, because Gordon fumbled again on the very first play of the third quarter.

Shamar Stephen punched the ball out and Hunter recovered. Once again, the Vikings only mustered a field goal after the turnover, but the tone was already set—this wasn’t going to be the Chargers’ day.

Bailey added his fourth field goal midway through the third quarter to increase the lead to 25-10. The Vikings were certainly in control, but it was still a two-score game. The Chargers spent the rest of the third quarter on a long drive, converting a fourth down and getting as close as the Minnesota 7 yard line. But the Vikings defense held firm in the red zone, forcing two incompletions on either side of an Odenigbo sack as the Chargers turned the ball over on downs.

The Vikings could put the game away once and for all with a score, and that’s exactly what they did.

Play 5: Vikings ball, 3rd & 14 at the Minnesota 46. Fourth quarter, 11:22 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass deep left to S.Diggs to LAC 8 for 46 yards (R.Jenkins).

The Vikings moved to midfield in four plays after taking over on downs, but it looked like their drive was about to stall, facing a third and long after a Tyler Conklin holding penalty. Minnesota needed a big play to keep the drive alive.

And this season, nobody has been more reliable than Stefon Diggs when it comes to making big plays.

Cousins found Diggs wide open on a bomb to get inside the Chargers’ 10. On the next play, Mike Boone scored on an 8-yard run to erase any lingering doubt about the outcome.

While the Chargers were all but done for on the scoreboard, they weren’t done coughing the ball up. A Hunter Henry fumble and two more Rivers interceptions capped off a comically bad day for the Chargers while the Vikings coasted to the big win.

Takeaways might be a little harder to come by next Monday, as the Vikings host a Packers team that has turned the ball over only nine times all season. Minnesota needs a win to keep their slim hopes of an NFC North title alive. Even if they don’t end up winning the division, beating their rivals would do wonders for morale heading into the postseason.

As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.

Poll

What was the most important play from the Vikings’ win over the Chargers?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Rudolph’s catch/drawing pass interference on the first drive
    (13 votes)
  • 2%
    Hunter forcing Gordon’s first fumble
    (17 votes)
  • 91%
    Odenigbo’s scoop and score
    (685 votes)
  • 2%
    Stephen forcing Gordon’s second fumble right after halftime
    (21 votes)
  • 1%
    Cousins to Diggs to set up Boone’s first score
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (comment below)
    (4 votes)
751 votes total Vote Now